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When There Almost Was a Bowling Green Massacre — By a White Supremacist

| February 8, 2017

bowling green massacre Richard Schmidt. (Justice Department)

Richard Schmidt. (Justice Department)

The year was 2012. The place was Bowling Green, Ohio. A federal raid had uncovered what the authorities feared were the makings of a massacre. There were 18 firearms, among them two AR–15 assault rifles, an AR–10 assault rifle and a Remington Model 700 sniper rifle. There was body armor, too, and the authorities counted some 40,000 rounds of ammunition. An extremist had been arrested, and prosecutors suspected that he had been aiming to carry out a wide assortment of killings.


“This defendant, quite simply, was a well-funded, well-armed and focused one-man army of racial and religious hate,” prosecutors said in a court filing.

The man arrested and charged was Richard Schmidt, a middle-aged owner of a sports-memorabilia business at a mall in town. Prosecutors would later call him a white supremacist. His planned targets, federal authorities said, had been African-Americans and Jews. They’d found a list with the names and addresses of those to be assassinated, including the leaders of NAACP chapters in Michigan and Ohio.

But Schmidt wound up being sentenced to less than six years in prison, after a federal judge said prosecutors had failed to adequately establish that he was a political terrorist, and he is scheduled for release in February 2018. The foiling of what the government worried was a credible plan for mass murder gained little national attention.

For some concerned about America’s vulnerability to terrorism, the very real, mostly forgotten case of Richard Schmidt in Bowling Green, Ohio, deserves an important place in any debate about what is real and what is fake, what gets reported on by the news media and what doesn’t. Those deeply worried about domestic far-right terrorism believe United States authorities, across many administrations, have regularly underplayed the threat, and that the media has repeatedly underreported it. Perhaps we have become trapped in one view of what constitutes the terrorist threat, and as the case of Schmidt shows, that’s a problem.

The notion of a “Bowling Green massacre,” of course, has been in the news recently. Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, referred to it in justifying the president’s travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Conway had Bowling Green, Kentucky, in mind, but she eventually conceded there had been no massacre there. She meant, she said, to refer to the 2011 case of two Iraqi refugees who had moved to Kentucky and been convicted of trying to aid attacks on American military personnel in Iraq. One was sentenced to 40 years, the other to life in prison.

Her gaffe, accidental or intentional, prompted a mock vigil in New York and a flood of internet memes. The imaginary massacre now even has its own Wikipedia page.

On Monday, Trump made the provocative, unsubstantiated claim that the American media intentionally failed to cover acts of terrorism around the globe. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” he said in a speech to military commanders. “And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Ryan Lenz tracks racist and extreme-right terrorists. So far, he said, he’s seen little from the Trump administration to suggest it will make a priority of combating political violence carried out by American racist groups.

“It doesn’t seem at all like they are interested in pursuing extremists inspired by radical right ideologies,” said Lenz, who edits the organization’s HateWatch publication.

Indeed, Reuters reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to retool its Countering Violent Extremism program to focus solely on Islamic radicals. Government sources told the news agency the program would be rebranded as “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” and “would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Department of Homeland Security chose to look away. In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then an analyst with the department, drafted a study of right-wing radicals in the United States. Johnson saw a confluence of factors that might energize the movement and its threat: the historic election of an African-American president; rising rates of immigration; proposed gun control legislation; and a wave of military veterans returning to civilian life at a time of painful economic recession.

The report predicted an uptick in extremist activity, particularly within “the white supremacist and militia movements.”

Response to the document was swift and punishing. Conservative news outlets and Republican leaders condemned Johnson’s report as a work of “anti-military bigotry” and an attack on conservative opinion. Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security at the time, retracted the report and closed Johnson’s office, the Extremism and Radicalization Branch.

Three years later, Richard Schmidt came to the attention of the federal government almost by accident. Schmidt had been suspected of trading in counterfeit NFL jerseys. Searching his home and store for fake goods, FBI agents discovered something far more sinister: a vast arsenal. A secret room attached to Schmidt’s shop “contained nothing but his rifles, ammunition, body armor, his writings and a cot,” wrote prosecutors in a court document.

Beefy, thick-necked, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing about 250 pounds, Schmidt had spent years in the Army as an active-duty soldier and a reservist. His military service ended in 1989 when he got into a fight and shot three people, killing one of them, a man named Anthony Torres. As a result, Schmidt spent 13 years in prison on a manslaughter conviction and was legally barred from owning firearms.

After searching his property, the government came to believe he was involved with the National Alliance, a virulent and long-running extremist group, which was once among the nation’s most powerful white supremacist organizations. They also suspected him of an affiliation with the Vinlanders, a neo-Nazi skinhead gang.

Founded by William Pierce, who died in 2002, the National Alliance has long been linked to terrorism. Pierce, who started the group in 1970 and ran it for many years from a compound in West Virginia, wrote “The Turner Diaries,” an apocalyptic novel that basically lays out a blueprint for unleashing a white supremacist insurgency against the government. The novel was described by Timothy J. McVeigh as the inspiration for his bombing in 1995 of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

FBI agents came to believe Schmidt had been planning his own string of racially motivated attacks on African-American and Jewish community leaders. The agents spread out across Ohio and Michigan to alert his apparent targets. “They had a notebook of information from Schmidt’s home,” recalled Scott Kaufman, the chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “Some of the items related specifically to our organization and staff — people’s names, locations, maps. It was certainly disturbing.”

In court, the defense lawyer Edward G. Bryan disputed the government’s portrayal of Schmidt, who was 47 at the time of his arrest. Bryan painted his client as a slightly eccentric survivalist who didn’t intend to “harm anyone, including those listed in written materials found within his property.”

The government saw it differently. Schmidt, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed in court, planned to assassinate “members of religious and cultural groups based only on their race, religion and ethnicity.” His cache of weapons, added prosecutors, had only one purpose: to start a “race war.” Other court documents suggest that he planned to videotape his killing spree and email the video clips to his fellow white supremacists.

After pleading guilty to weapons and counterfeiting charges, Schmidt was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison by Judge Jack Zouhary in December 2013.

These days, Kaufman of the Jewish Federation in Detroit doesn’t think much about Schmidt. He’s got plenty of other things to worry about. “In the last two weeks in our community we’ve had two bomb scares,” as well as an incident involving spray-painted swastikas, he said. He’s noted a spike in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year.

“This whole thing is trending in the wrong direction,” he said.

–A.C. Thompson, ProPublica

This story, part of ProPublica’s Documenting hate series, was co-published with The New York Times.

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12 Responses for “When There Almost Was a Bowling Green Massacre — By a White Supremacist”

  1. The Ghost of America says:

    Oh come now, everyone knows that white people can’t commit terrorist acts. Only the browns can.

  2. Fred says:

    18 firearms, among them two AR–15 assault rifles, an AR–10 assault rifle and a Remington Model 700 sniper rifle, body armor, 40,000 rounds of ammunition.

    Is that all ?

  3. Sherry says:

    An excellent prediction by HL Mencken almost 100 years ago:

    “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    and another:

    “Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. The are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its ferine fury.”
    ― H.L. Mencken, In Defense Of Women

  4. Knightwatch says:

    Pierre… we all know only (all) Muslims are terrorists. Armed and angry white guys are merely 2nd amendment 1st amendmenters. You know, armed defense of their right to deny all other’s rights.

    It’s complicated.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    So complicated… that now a Phoenix AZ mother and wife of American Citizens is being deported to Mexico after living among us for over 20 years working to help sustain her family. Treated like a terrorist that she is not! http://www.kvoa.com/story/34463440/several-arrested-as-deportation-fear-prompts-phoenix-protest

  6. Sherry says:

    An excellent prediction by HL Mencken almost 100 years ago:
    “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    and another:
    “Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. The are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its ferine fury.”
    ― H.L. Mencken, In Defense Of Women

  7. Sherry says:

    Government is the greatest show on earth
    by Rheta Johnson
    09:59 AM, Wednesday, February 08
    We only thought the three-ring circus was folding its tents and putting all the animals up for adoption. Rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

    One circus remains, playing to large crowds on the national stage, replete with lions, tigers and trained elephants, the ringmaster at the center cracking his whip and keeping the action fast and furious.

    “Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the strangest show on earth!

    “In this ring, watch as the clown car careens into view, spilling out unlikely cabinet members who are billionaires, millionaires, mostly white males and about to head agencies they were totally unaware of or opposed to until called to the fore. Hold onto your seats as their policies unfold.

    “Turn your attention, if you will, to the far-right ring. On the high wire, watch as the daring Trump Family tries to maintain its balance in business while running the country.

    “No nets, no ethics, no blind trusts! This bit of derring-do has never before been attempted!

    “Watch the center ring! The lion-tamer is putting his head into the mouth of mighty Russia, showing us how subdued and gentle the beast is now. All it ever wanted was to be understood, and fed on a regular diet of our state secrets.

    “The tigers are another matter, dangerous, a job for the no-nonsense ringmaster himself! He tips his top hat and takes charge, poking at the snarling creatures with a big stick, provoking allies like Australia and Mexico for the sheer thrill of it. Take that, you bad hombres. Now, that’s entertainment!

    “Here come the mighty elephants, parading in a circle, each in its turn holding the tail of the lumbering Republican in front, marching in ponderous lock step for the good of the circus. Watch out, John McCain! Rogue elephants will be shot.

    “Out of the cannon shoots Steve Bannon, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than Ivanka! Where will he land? Oh, in the lap of the ringmaster! Bull’s-eye!

    “Munch on your cotton candy and popcorn as the tumbling clowns build a wall — 2 feet, 3 feet, 6 feet tall! Nobody can cross over it, except for the clowns on the other side with their 8-foot ladder.

    “And now for the beloved magicians and their disappearing acts! Obamacare — gone! Muslim immigrants — gone! Separation of church and state — gone! Environmental regulations — gone!

    “Watch as magician Betsy DeVos makes public education disappear! Now you see it; now you don’t. And keep a close eye on the National Endowment for the Arts, Public Broadcasting, press briefings, the Fourth Estate and Medicare. Going, going, gone!

    “Look up at the flying trapeze. Watch as the beautiful Melania swings high above and far away from the ring, costing taxpayers millions to pay for this lofty perch.

    “And in the center ring is temptress Kellyanne Conway, draped in alternative facts, high up on an elephant named Bowling Green Massacre.

    “Ah, the laughter of the crowd — and the world! What could be better than the circus? Certainly not the Super Bowl. Who cares about that when the circus is in town?”

    Remember the old joke about running away to join the circus? Well, that’s what we’ve done as a nation. And our job will be to walk along behind and clean up the mess made by the elephants.

    Ah, show business!

    Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s most recent book is “Hank Hung the Moon … And Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts.” Comments are welcomed at rhetagrimsley@aol.com.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Hooray for the 9th Circuit Court, Thank you to our courageous 3 judges!! Justice and our constitutution prevail in this first round!

  9. flagler1 says:

    Someone needs a hobby.

  10. Sherry says:

    Well. . . my hobbies include actually being engaged in life and evolving as a human being, including, but not limited to continuing my education and spiritual development, exercising at the gym twice a week, photography for Getty Images, international travel for 6 months a year to well over a dozen countries in the past 5 years, eating very healthy. . . and, Oh Yes. . . Protesting, in every way possible, against fascism, racism, xenophobia, war, strip clubs in residential neighborhoods, inequality and ALL injustice!

    My life passions include speaking out and financially supporting “higher” human values and ideals such as: EQUALITY, ETHICS, INTEGRITY, HONOR, COMPASSION, HONESTY and FACTS, OUR ENVIRONMENT, EVERY WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CONTROL HER OWN BODY, GUN SAFETY REGULATIONS, VOTING RIGHTS, HEALTH CARE, EQUAL EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL, PRIVACY. . . Etc, Etc.

    And, your hobbies are?

  11. Joseph says:

    Please keep the commits coming, Sherry. Maybe we can someday have Truth, Justice and the American way. Looks like your life passions are a good road to lead in that direction. In the summer of 2015 I was telling my wife that Mrs. Clinton needed to watch out because it’s hard to win an argument with someone who makes up the facts as they go along. We now see the outcome of that argument.

  12. Sherry says:

    Thank you Joseph!

    There was a time, several years ago (PTTTP= Prior to the Tea Party) when many of the Republicans also believed that “Truth and Justice” was the “American” way . It’s quite disturbing, and down right sickening, to realize that so many in our country have lost their moral compass and have been indoctrinated into an “alternate reality” of fear and hate. . . one where proven facts are brushed aside in favor of complete “conspiracy theories” that feed the “fear and hate” beast within.

    As I’ve said to our many friends in Europe, South Africa and Australia. . . who are aghast and astounded at the election results. . . my husband and I will continue to courageously embrace all humanity. We will continue to travel and live in the greater “global society” and to appreciate the wonderful diversity of cultures and perspectives of ALL people on our entire planet. . . while sadly, many in the USA will continue to live fearful, tiny lives. . . cowering under their beds. . . guns at the ready!

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